The Finnish-American musical duo Kaivama (KAI-vuh-muh) has been in existence for less than two years as I write this, but already they have two superb releases to their name, including this new one with the highly respected Finnish fiddler Arto Järvelä. Following on the heels of their self-titled 2011 release, in March 2012 they toured the Midwest briefly with Järvelä, and took a day (!) off the road to duck into the studio and record this self-titled trio CD with him. I was fortunate to see the three of them perform at a house concert on their West Coast tour in May, and to pick up an advance copy of the album. It has become one of the favorite CDs in my household this year.
Kaivama is fiddler Sara Pajunen (PAH-juh-nen) and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rundman, playing mostly guitar and harmonium. Both are from the Upper Midwest, she from Hibbing, Minnesota, and he from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Both are Finnish-American and steeped in the community’s folk music, although Pajunen studied classical music here and at the Sibelius Academy in Finland and Rundman has recorded mostly the power-pop style of rock music.
Järvelä, for those who don’t recognize the name, is the “J” of the well-known and critically acclaimed Finnish folk trio JPP. He is known as one of the busiest and most prolific of Scandinavian musicians. He and Pajunen met in Finland a while back, and then earlier this year he and Kaivama got together when both were touring at about the same time in the U.S., and did their brief tours and recording session.
And what a delight this recording is! It has three traditional tunes, and the rest are contemporary works in the traditional style, most written by Järvelä but one each by Sara and Jonathan. Hers is a lovely pastoral tune called “Blooming Prairie,” featuring her on fiddle and Jonathan on piano and, toward the end of the song when it morphs from a march to a waltz, harmonium. Jonathan’s is the “Norman Borlaug Polka,” a driving fiddle-guitar duet featuring a charming pizzicato middle section, and a rock-inspired section just before the main theme is restated at the finale.
The three trad numbers include track 2, “Ukon Ja Akan Riita” with beautiful interplay between the two fiddlers; the stately “Piikin Nikun Polska” a duet between Järvelä and Rundman on harmonium, with some brief “Ahhhhhh” vocals from Pajunen and Rundman; and “Stare 104 & 1” with Järvelä on the keyed esseharpa. After a slow introduction, the guitar and second fiddle join in for a lively dance number.
The rest of the tunes are by Järvelä, and include waltzes, polskas, marches and other dance forms. The opening track is a great album-starter, the driving “Hoppavalssi” with intertwining fiddle lines and forcefully strummed guitar. “Taapelivalssi” is a pensive slow waltz. The solo piece “Volte Af Grelsson” is a primitive-sounding, drone-laden dance in a fast three. “Hilsen Fra Finnskog” is another solo tune by Järvelä, this time more upbeat. And it wraps up with a full trio performance, the live and beautiful “Røros,” with Rundman’s portable pedal-organ providing lovely warm color.
This disc is recommended for all fans of Nordic music, as are performances by Kaivama. You’ll find a list of upcoming shows on their website.